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I’ve been meaning to write about MERANTAU, an Indonesian martial arts movie for some time and with Todd Brown’s publication of an excellent interview with its writer/director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais on Twitch, it’s time Kung Fu Cinema gave this upcoming silat film a nod.

The film has me excited for two big reasons. One, it’s being put together largely by folks new to the martial arts movie scene. Evans is a longtime martial arts movie fan who is shooting his first martial arts film. Uwais, a student of Silat is acting and doing screen fighting for the first time and the film’s fight coordinator Edwel Datuk Rajo Gampo Alam is a Silat Harimau master who is also new to filmmaking.

Second, the film is tackling Silat, a martial arts style that we haven’t seen represented in any substantial way before. For some, this lack of experience could be a problem but from behind-the-scenes footage that has been released it looks like the production team is using this opportunity to put together action scenes from a fresh angle.

Here’s the official synopsis for the movie.

In Minangkabau, West Sumatra, Yuda (Iko Uwais), a skilled practitioner of Silat Harimau is in the final preparations to begin his “Merantau,” a century’s old rites-of-passage to be carried out by the community’s young men that will see him leave the comforts of his idyllic farming village and make a name for himself in the bustling city of Jakarta.

After a series of setbacks leave Yuda homeless and uncertain about his new future, a chance encounter results in him defending the orphaned Astri (Sisca Jessica) from becoming the latest victim of a European human trafficking ring led by the wildly psychotic, Ratger (Mads Koudal) and his right-hand man Luc (Laurent Buson).

With Ratger injured in the melee and seeking both his “merchandise” and bloody retribution, Yuda’s introduction to this bustling city is a baptism of fire as he is forced to go on the run with Astri and her younger brother Adit as all the pimps and gangsters that inhabit the night hound the streets chasing their every step.

With escape seemingly beyond their grasp, Yuda has no choice but to face his attackers in an adrenaline charged, jaw-dropping finale.

Newcomer Iko Uwais is an expert in Pencak Silat, the international term for the broad-ranging martial arts of Indonesia. Uwais comes from the Silat Tiga Berantai school in Jakarta. He came to British director Gareth Evans’ attention during the production of a documentary in Jakarta.

Like kung fu, Silat is made up of many different schools and styles. According to Uwais, its defining quality is the presentation of its movements. “During a demonstration Silat uses a lot of kicks and punches, accompanied by traditional music and is very closely associated with the teachings of Islam as a means of character building especially in my master’s school.”

As this is his first film, Uwais admits to being “very challenged” by making the transition from tournament fighting to screen fighting, largely because of the need to control his movements so as not to injure his onscreen opponents. Uwais worked with Gareth Evans and Edwel Datuk Rajo Gampo Alam to come up with screen fighting techniques and shooting styles.

Laurent Buson is a martial arts actor we have written about before. He’s a French expatriate based in China where he has extensively studied wushu and now is an active member of the first foreign martial arts action team in China. We’ve previously featured his short film, DUEL. That film, as well as four other Z Team productions can be downloaded free at Z-Team.net.

MERANTAU went into production in December of 2008. Since then, its progress has been chronicled online through a series of behind-the-scenes video blogs. You can view all the posts posted to date below. To catch upcoming entries and other updates visit the film’s official web site.

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  • The truth

    A movie that focuses on the silat focuses on the silat fighting style sounds unique and everyone involved does seem passionate about what their doing but….. im not all that excited by what ive seen so far. The action will really have to be phenomenal to make this stand out.

  • danmye

    I don’t think it’s the action that will be the problem so much as the editing. I already notice, if the showreel that prefaces each blog video entry is an indication, the now customarily annoying MTV style quit cuts editing currently saturating martial arts cinema generally.

  • dragon (i)

    Good luck to all the crew on this movie.

  • Nonick

    The Hunted focused on Escrima, which uses a lot of Silat techniques.

  • silat

    but I don’t understand, the trailer should be released in january, the blogs have stopped since week 7, have they stopped filming? I don’t hope so, ’cause I am very excited to see this movie!

  • http://www.merantau-movie.com Gareth Evans

    Hi all,

    Sorry for the mix up – we are still shooting at the moment and are in the last days of production so we naturally had to push our release date back from the original plan of April 30th to allow enough time for post-production. This is also why there’s no trailer online as of yet, we will get that ready and released once we are done.

    Blog 8 has been uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo channels but not to the official site as yet, we will update the site soon – but as of yet all of our staff are working to complete the production. Blog 9 is in the works also and will be released shortly.

    Also to answer the question about the editing, the introduction to the blogs was made just as an introductory sting – it is not intended to reflect the action sequences of the finished film – I’m not a fan of MTV style cutting to create excitement either and I hope that when you get to see Merantau you will like what we have to offer – longer takes and clear camera angles that show the choreography instead of hiding it.

    Thanks for your support and kind words.

    Gareth

  • danmye

    Gareth,

    Thanks for responding partner! Great news about the project’s progression! Take the time you need, my friend, to do justice to the material! Very pleasant news, also, to know that the editing style presented in the blogs entry does not characterize that which shall reflect the film’s overall action presentation.

    Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to respond to your fanbase here, and for being an inspiration to other aspiring filmmakers like my self to get out there and do your own thing!

  • http://grasell.multiply.com/ Shandy Gasella

    I learned and practiced SILAT — back to 10 years ago, it was fun! The art.. that SILAT is like a dance, and the music is so mystical!
    ..I’d love to see that on screen!

  • capoeiranger

    First of all, let me say that I will make sure myself is one of the crowd during the premiere. I’m Indonesian. I’m a martial art practitioner, a lover of the art -whatever school or form of martial art it is-, a choreographer and also amateur filmmaker, I’ve done several short films which some of them, including the trailers, I’ve placed on Youtube (Fight Clip, in case you may interested in), I’ve been into movies and all my life I’ve dreamed of making martial art- based-action movie. The ones which stresses more on the individual skills and the grace of human’s body as weapon, thus I rejected the idea of martial art movies with guns (like most Jean Claude Van Damme’s movies, except The Quest and Bloodsport). I’ve been waiting for someone to finally film a movie about martial art in Indonesia, and there…I saw the trailer of Merantau and read this page and the interview. I have to say honestly, I cried. It’s a tears of joy after a long wait. And this movie, no matter what the result may be, is a dream come true and I’m sure I’ll give a nod to this movie whenever they asked me about martial art flicks. So good luck to Gareth, Iko and everyone’s on the movie. I see that Christine Hakim, the legend herself is there on the movie, so it’s one I shouldn’t miss. Anyway, thanks for the movie and hope people will like it, because I’m sure I will.

  • ungky

    Gareth, I hope you will make another silat movie with Dutch Occupation setting (around 1700 – 1900). At that time, lots of Indonesian were practising silat. I imagine the traditional background, arts and music will give distinctive marks.

    Loved your work, pal

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kang-Reksa/1027511743 Kang Reksa

    When will it be release in the US? When? I cant wait….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dandi-Samsulhilal/1788954374 Dandi Samsulhilal

    Salut untuk merantau…dan selamat untuk penghargaan yang di dapatkan

  • dhiko

    Karakah madang dihulu..
    Ba buah babungo balun
    marantau bujang dahulu
    dikampuang paguno balun….

    Bravo Silek Minang
    Jaya Silat Indonesia

  • http://www.facebook.com/myemyes Mye Hoang

    MERANTAU Coming to SDAFF '09! Can't wait to see it! Who's down for some Islamic martial arts…? Check out the trailer and blogs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/myemyes Mye Hoang

    San Diego, CA
    http://www.sdaff.org
    Oct 15 – 29, 2009
    West Coast Premiere of MERANTAU

  • http://www.facebook.com/myemyes Mye Hoang

    MERANTAU Coming to SDAFF '09! Can't wait to see it! Who's down for some Islamic martial arts…? Check out the trailer and blogs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/myemyes Mye Hoang

    San Diego, CA
    http://www.sdaff.org
    Oct 15 – 29, 2009
    West Coast Premiere of MERANTAU

  • http://www.budomate.com/ budomate

    Just have seen it. Amazing movie, caught me from the first minutes. It's hard to avoid of comparison with Ong Bak, because guys definitely took something from it, but silat's technique is more defended than muay thai but it doesn't mean not so effective, moreover Iko Uwais looks like Tony Jaa. A lot of dramatic scenes made this film out of the general run.

    Great debut for Silat on big screen. You will like it.

  • Rocketeer

    The oldest record indicated that Silat indeed come from Sumatera Indonesia. From there, it spread to Java. For centuries, ancient kingdoms of Indonesia like Sriwijaya and Majapahit utilize this art greatly in their conquering of the Malay world. In those times, the art was exclusively taught and practiced only inside the royalty and warrior circles, and it also used to determine the rank and position within the government.

    During the Dutch conquering of (what is now Indonesian) archipelago between 16th – 19th century, many Silat practitioners were fled to the other parts of the Malay world. Some to avoid prosecution by the dutch, some for merantau (like in the movie). Later on, they passed Silat to their descendants. Now the art is a common heritage of the all Malay nations.
    However, the art Silat is undoubtedly originated in Indonesian part of Malay world, and it is not a coincidence that now Indonesian is the first who introduce it to the world through movie.

    Great Movie… :D

  • donaldsthomas

    Thank U for finally finding a movie with silat n it. My sifu practices mande muda silat under greg picardo & he was waiting for one to appear. Where can I purchase this movie? Please send info to my e-mail. blasian4@hotmail.com Donald thomas. Thank you